Thursday 2 May 2019

How Leaking Happens

As everyone else is sharing it, and as I was so interested in it myself, I thought I ought to share this fascinating behind-the-scenes glimpse into the world of the media and politicians by the Guardian's Gaby Hinsliff (on Twitter). Take it away, Gaby!:


Look I haven't a clue what Gavin Williamson, or of course Another Mystery Person, said to Steven Swinford but generally: there seems to be some confusion about how leaking happens, so a brief boring thread...

What ministers almost never do is ring you up going 'HOO BOY GUESS WHAT HAPPENED IN THIS NSC MEETING' (to take a random example). Nor do you generally ring them up going 'OK, so what happened in the NSC meeting'.

And I think once in 13 years as a lobby hack someone rang me up saying 'there's a brown envelope in X place in the Commons, I think you'll find the contents interesting' and it was a leaked copy of a draft white paper. ONCE. So; it ain't like in films.

What happens ALL THE TIME is a sort of jigsaw ID. Maybe you know there was (say) a Cabinet meeting today and it was due to discuss X, and X is controversial. So you ring a few people and sort of bounce things around. e.g. you might say 'I've heard that there was a big row about X this morning and that you were anti it, am I doing you an injustice by writing that?' Maybe you do 100% know this is what happened and you are just responsibly checking. Maybe you are kind of guessing, and fishing. But anyway the person might then say 'You know I can't possibly talk to you about a Cabinet conversation about X, bye now'. Or they'll first try to find out what if anything you actually do know (which might not be much). Or they'll say 'gosh you guys are fast' and you'll think, OK so I was right. and then you bounce it off a few more people, and same process ensues. Or very rarely someone might go 'well if you know THAT, let me tell you XYZ'. But anything short of the last answer, and that person might tell themselves 'well I didn't leak it. They already knew. I just..helped the story be  accurate about me.' They reason everyone else is briefing to make themselves look good so why be the one who doesn't and get stuffed? Plus builds goodwill with hacks.

I've had people say to me 'I don't know how you got hold of X' and I think 'uh literally from you mate'. Sometimes if you know a person well it's about the face they pull when you ask them did X happen, or the answer they don't give. You might not write a story based on that alone obviously but it's like a rolling stone, gathering moss. A little bit of info from lots of people who in each case don't think they really told you anything much = quite a sizeable stone sometimes.

To repeat i have no idea what happened with Huawei; only the journo concerned does and he's right to protect his sources. But leaking is a complicated thing, done for complicated reasons, and thus very hard to stop. Unlike this thread. (Stop).

1 comment:

  1. Monkey Brains2 May 2019 at 14:34

    It is an absolute scandal that we are even considering Huawei for this role. It must surely have something to do with the Cameronites on the UK Board. Huawei is controlled by the Chinese Communist dictatorship (which currently has over a million of its citizens undergoing brainwashing and maltreatment in concentration camps). China cheats at everything from sport to trade to patents to North Korea. We can't accept their assurances.


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